The season has arrived and spirits are high as the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum is now open! Visitors will get to once again have fun partaking in the various activities the North Tonawanda museum has to offer and learning about the influence the Western New York carousel industry has had on the nation.
“Historically, North Tonawanda is really important for amusement and the amusement industry,” says Executive Director Ian Seppala, who adds that 50% of all American wooden carousels come from North Tonawanda. Over 100 carousels built here are still used in the United States and Canada, including one at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester and one at Busch Gardens in Virginia.
The current museum operates within the building where carousels were built from 1915-1960, and Seppala says, “We are the only carousel museum in the world built in the original factory building.”
Located in the Niagara Region, this museum is operated by the Carousel Society of the Niagara Frontier, which serves as a resource for family recreation and learning about the Niagara Region's carousel heritage. The museum showcases the history of the four carousel companies in the Tonawandas, owned and operated by Allan Herschell. The city produced more hand-carved carousels than any other US city.
The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum includes two functioning historical carousels and four functioning historical children’s rides, such as the Kiddieland Testing Park Exhibit, as well as over 10 Wurlitzer Band Organs made in North Tonawanda.
Over forty years ago, a group of people discussed bringing a carousel back to North Tonawanda and they initiated the carousel museum concept. Since then, Rae Proefrock, Doug Bathke, and Allan Herschell, namesake of the Allan Herschell Company, worked together to grow the museum.
After touring the original factory building on Thompson St, the committee decided to restore the building and place a carousel in the roundhouse. At the time, the cities of North Tonawanda and Tonawanda were divided into walkable neighborhoods. Volunteers were recruited to walk each street in the two cities to inform residents of the carousel plan and ask for $2 donations. Donors received a yellow ticket for a family carousel ride. People were eager to go, and over $10,000 was raised for a down payment.
The owner of the factory building allowed the committee to use its roundhouse portion for housing and operating the carousel. Volunteers devoted several weekends to cleaning up around the factory. Afterwards, the carousel parts were painted and assembled, with a carnival operator guiding the process.
On the first day of Canal Fest in July 1983, the carousel opened to the public, celebrating the Tonawandas' history. Peanut-filled chocolate horses on a stick were sold to raise the remaining $55,000 for the purchase.
In 1984, the historic factory building was purchased and the long process of converting it into a museum began. The entire factory building was completely restored thanks to public foundation grants. They also developed exhibits that tell the story of the Herschell and North Tonawanda band organ companies and developed educational programs.
Despite the rich history the museum provides, displaying North Tonawanda’s everlasting presence in the amusement industry, Seppela says they do not take themselves too seriously. Instead, they provide Western New York with a merry, educational, and affordable experience for all to enjoy. They have rides and fun activities for visitors of all ages.
Seppala hopes the museum is a fun, historical experience that brings pride to the community. He says, “We’ve done a lot of amazing things, and we’re continuing to do a lot of great things in the area.”
New this year is the Rounding Board exhibit. The museum received a federal grant from the National Park Service to restore the rounding boards on top of the carousel. Seppala said visitors can watch work being done on the rounding boards to restore them to their original condition. These will be worked on all summer and are expected to be complete in October.
Upcoming Museum Activities and Programs Include:
First Friday of Each Month: Storytime Enjoy the latest favorite picture book at 12:30 pm in person and on Facebook Live.
May 27th-29th: Kiddieland Opening Weekend Kids between 34” and 52” tall will love our refurbished rides featuring kiddie cars, wet boats, pony carts, and more!
June 20th: National Band Organ Day Visitors can listen to various organs and participate in music themed educational programming.
July 22nd: Auto Show: Classics at the Carrousel Music, food trucks, 50/50, basket raffle, and some of the finest classic cars in Erie and Niagara featuring pre-‘72 cars and other special interest cars. Sponsored by Ross Service.
For current museum information and activities, visit carrouselmuseum.org